5 Emotional Regulation Skills from Dialectical Behavior Therapy


Dialectical behavior therapy teaches us emotion regulation skills to help us manage difficult moods. Here are the most helpful emotion regulation skills.

Our emotions, at their root, are determined by chemical responses in the brain. These chemicals are released in response to situations, stimuli, conversations, people, events, and basically anything that can happen in day to day life.

While we can’t necessarily control how our brains chemically response, what we can do is learn to regulate our emotions. We can learn the process of emotion regulation so that we can control our feelings, moods, and responses that come from the emotions triggered in daily life.

It’s easier said than done, though. Many people feel completely controlled by their emotions, which leads them to impulsive responses, actions, and situations that can make things worse.

This is especially true for those of us suffering from a mental illness or those who haven’t learned critical emotional regulation skills.

That’s where dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) comes in. In this article, we’re going to go over some of the key skills and practices the DBT teaches to help us learn to regulate our emotions and feelings.

Let’s get started.

What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)?

DBT is a type of therapy that combines both behavioral and cognitive techniques and therapies. DBT was originally used and created for the treatment of borderline personality disorder.

However, those with anxiety, depression, OCD, eating disorders, suicidal ideation, and even those without a diagnosed mental health problem have found that DBT can help with self-confidence, self-management, coping skills, and more.

It can also help reduce the following:

  • Impulsive behavior
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Intense anger/rage
  • Anxiety around certain situations/people
  • Addictive behaviors
  • Negative/destructive thought patterns

The end goal for patients in dialectical behavior therapy is to adjust negative and toxic thoughts and behaviors in such a way that it transforms into positive thinking, behavior patterns, and healthy reactions.

The Four Modules of DBT

DBT teaches four general modules to patients. These are:

  1. Interpersonal effectiveness
  2. Emotional regulation
  3. Distress tolerance
  4. Mindfulness

Each of these modules is interconnected. In this post, however, we’re going to focus on emotional regulation.

What Is Emotional Regulation?

Emotional regulation is the practice of learning how to accept, understand, and process emotions effectively. It’s a practice that allows people to work through any and all emotions (even emotions seen as “negative” like anger or shame) in a way that’s positive and healthy instead of destructive or negative.

Let’s look at an example of poor emotional regulation. Perhaps someone eats a piece of cake after dinner and someone else comments on how cake is fattening.

Their first emotion might be shame or embarrassment.

Someone with poor emotional regulation skills and disordered eating might fuel that emotion with more negative thoughts against themselves. Or they might decide to validate that shame and restrict their eating to “make up” for the internal shame they feel. Or they might lash out in anger against the person who made them feel bad in order to push away the feeling.

Each of those reactions shows poor emotional regulation since they lash out destructively or impulsively based on that emotion.

Someone who knows how to practice emotional regulation skills would be able to notice their feeling of shame, provide positive self talk to stop any negative thought or behavior patterns, and move forward without spiraling.

Examples of Emotion Regulation Skills

Now that you have a general idea of what emotional regulation is, let’s look at some skills you’d learn in DBT.

  1. Situations

Emotions arise from situations in our lives. It could be anxiety before a speech, anger from something said to you, sadness from a movie you’re watching, shame from a thought you have in your mind, etc.

One emotional regulation skill you can learn is how to control the situations you’re in. If you have a friend who always makes you feel upset, learn to distance from them. If you have a recurring thought that makes you anxious, think another thought that makes you feel good.

DBT will teach you how to process and handle these different emotional scenarios.

  1. Appraise

The situation might be the trigger for an emotion, but how we appraise that situation is equally important for emotional regulation.

Back to the food example: if after the comment you fall into the pattern of thinking negative thoughts (“it is fattening, I’m so fat, I’m stupid, I’m disgusting, etc) that’s how you’re examining the situation.

Instead of those thought patterns (that you’re creating in your own mind!), you’ll learn how to appraise the situation differently. You can think, “that person wasn’t commenting about my weight or self-worth, it was just a comment.”

This will allow you to move on from the situation instead of letting the emotion take over your thoughts and actions.

  1. Response

Similar to the above appraisal skill, DBT will teach you how to respond in a healthy way to emotions. If you’re mad, for example, many people will impulsively feel the need to punch something or get into an enraged screaming fight.

We can change how we react to situations. Instead of angry violence, you’ll learn how to channel the emotion. You can focus on other things, think calming thoughts, practice mindfulness (another module of DBT), and more.

DBT teaches you how to process the situation and respond in a way that’s positive and helpful instead of how you’re used to responding (which is normally destructive and toxic).

  1. Accept and Name the Emotion

One of the most important emotional regulation skills that will affect all other skills and strategies you learn is learning to accept and name your emotions. Learning to accept emotions as you feel them, even if they feel “negative”, will help you healthily process them.

Many of our reactions to emotions have morphed into unhealthy defense mechanisms or coping skills. For example, instead of allowing ourselves to feel sad, we may overindulge on drugs, food, or activities to hide our pain.

With DBT, you’ll work on accepting and naming your emotions as you feel them, even if that’s uncomfortable. Once you can do that, you can learn how to be cognizant of your emotions, move on from them, and process them in a healthy way.

DBT Skills Help You Process Emotions and Decrease Emotional Distress

If you struggle with negative and destructive thought patterns, the emotion regulation skills you learn in DBT can help you. This therapy can be helpful for anyone dealing with tough emotions or behaviors, not just those with a diagnosed disorder.

Ready to take control of your emotions? Schedule a consult today to get started.

Our site provides a wealth of information about emotional and mental disorders. We also have information about emotion regulation. Explore our website today to get an appointment with the best therapist Los Angeles to improve mental health and enjoy your life with the interpersonal, workplace, and social relationships.

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